The fuss over ’50 Shades of Grey’

Everywhere I turn the past week, I see news about the dangers of 50 Shades of Grey. It will teach our daughters that pain is erotic, for example, and it will teach our sons that women want to be controlled. I haven’t seen the movie, but I doubt one film could impart lessons that lasting (whether we have a larger social problem along those lines is another matter).

Don’t let your kids see 50 Shades of Grey, the warnings proclaim. Because, well, this. It’s a letter to young people by a psychiatrist. Since I have teen daughters, and thought I might get good guidance from it, I clicked on the link. Whether people read the book or see the movie, whether people feel comfortable with their teenage daughters doing so, and how they talk to their kids about it are all personal decisions. Different families will have different responses based on their values, personalities, and dynamics. But after reading psychiatrist Miriam Grossman’s letter, I wondered why on earth anyone would want to show that to their daughters. Besides the didactic, condescending tone, there’s this pronouncement:

“A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She wants to feel safe, respected and cared for by a man she can trust. She dreams about  wedding gowns, not handcuffs.”

Whoa! Let’s make blanket statements about how a psychologically healthy woman should feel. About a man, of course. Psychologically healthy women couldn’t have romantic feelings for anything but a man, right? And hello, wedding gowns? What century are we living in?

Then there’s this: “Sure, Anastasia had free choice – and she chose poorly. A self-destructive decision is a bad decision.” Poor choices, bad decisions. Not much of a leap to bad person. Not a message I want to convey to my kids, unless I’m completely positive they’ll never, ever make a choice or decision that’s anything less than perfect.

About experimenting with sexuality, the good doctor says it might be okay, “for adults in a long term, healthy, committed, monogomous relationship, AKA ‘marriage’.” There go those wedding gowns again. One thing she says that I do agree with is that the plot of 50 Shades of Grey could happen “only in a movie.” Ironically, her idea of chaste young ladies with visions of wedding gowns dancing in their heads seems just as fantastical.

I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure that showing this letter to anyone would make them more likely to want to see the movie (especially if they didn’t already know that Beyonce is on the soundtrack). And seriously, didn’t we learn anything from Nancy Reagan, Just Say No, and D.A.R.E.?

A just say no attitude spiced with a heavy dose of judgment isn’t going to keep kids away from self-destructive sexual behavior any more than it keeps them away from drugs. This 2013 Scientific American article talks about why Just Say No doesn’t work, and what methods have proven to be effective. Not surprisingly, they involve “substantial amounts of interaction” between adults and young people, and “lessons that are reinforced over time.”

As parents, we have the opportunity to put those kinds of responses into practice with our kids. We can take a simplistic, punitive approach to what, for better or worse, is a very popular movie, or we can use it as an opportunity for discussion about sex and relationships, both of which, whether Dr. Grossman likes it or not, are not black and white.


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